A therapist counsels a woman whose boyfriend won't block his lovelorn ex-girlfriend – even though she's demanded it

Doing It Right Series: Shot of young woman and man arguing
Therapist Natalie Jambazian said that couples can rebuild trust and connection, but only if they're both committed to improving themselves as individuals.Gorodenkoff/Getty Images
  • Instead of making demands of your partner, use "I" statement and speak about your feelings, a therapist said.

  • Journal about your progress as a couple to help you decide if and how you should move forward.

  • Have a question for Julia? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously. You can read more Doing It Right here.

doing it right banner
Samantha Lee/Insider

Dear Julia,

I recently found out that my boyfriend has been messaging his ex-girlfriend on Facebook.

They dated 12 years ago, but she recently reached out. When I saw their conversation, including a message that she sent saying "You're my drug," I went ballistic.

I told my boyfriend that he needs to block her and stop communicating with her, but he hasn't yet. He gets mad whenever I bring it up, saying I'm harping on this. But he's messaged other girls behind my back before and lied about it until I saw the proof.

We live together and I'm not dealing with this again. I feel like he's being beyond disrespectful, but am I wrong?

- Pennsylvania

Dear Pennsylvania,

I'm so sorry that you feel disrespected in your relationship.

I can understand why you told your boyfriend to end contact with his ex-girlfriend. You probably want to know that you can trust him, and that you have some control over your future with him.

But you can't expect your boyfriend to obey this demand, at least not without a deeper conversation about the state of your relationship, California-based therapist Natalie Jambazian, who specializes in helping clients heal from narcissistic abuse, told me.

When partners have a pattern of distrust in their relationship, like due to physical or emotional cheating, it can cause them to enter "survival mode" to avoid feeling betrayed again, Jambazian told me.

She said that can often be in the form of making demands or monitoring a partner's behaviors in an attempt to feel safe in the relationship. But being hypervigilant towards your partner only gives the illusion of control and safety, according to Jambazian. Ultimately, we can only control ourselves.

To repair a relationship after a pattern of distrust, both partners must show a willingness to be honest about what they need and aren't getting, and the ability to hear how they've been falling short for their partner without getting defensive, Jambazian said.

"Change happens when you're actually putting in the effort to work on yourself and as a couple," she said.

Reflect on your relationship expectations – and get to know your partner's

According to Jambazian, people may quietly look for connection elsewhere when they feel like they're not being heard or valued in their relationship.

That doesn't justify a partner's secretive behavior. But it can serve as a clue about what needs to change in your relationship to end the cycle of secrecy and distrust, Jambazian said.

She said that partners need to communicate about what they need to feel supported, and listen to and apply the things that their partner says they need.

To do that, find a time when you're both calm and in a good mindset to chat, not on the heels of an argument, Jambazian said. Then, use "I" statements to share the behaviors you've noticed and how they've been making you feel. You could say something like, "I noticed that you're still texting with your ex. I feel unimportant and disconnected from you when this happens. Can we talk about it?"

From there, your boyfriend may feel able to share his side of things without becoming defensive. The goal here isn't to prove one of you is right and the other wrong, or for your boyfriend to immediately agree to your demand to block his ex. Rather, it's to understand how you've each been feeling, and how you can both shift your behavior to support each other better, Jambazian said.

This won't be a one-time conversation, Jambazian said. Rather, couples working through feelings of betrayal should commit to regular check-ins about their relationship. And if you can afford therapy, a couple's therapist can be a helpful resource for working through more difficult conversations, Jambazian told me.

She also suggested keeping a journal to track how your conversations go. Are you and your partner getting better at being curious and empathetic instead of defensive? Do you notice yourself feeling happier and more secure in your relationship?

If you don't notice even a little bit of progress, it could be a sign you're not compatible with your boyfriend. Ultimately, you should trust your instincts, Jambazian said.

Recognize your deepest fears so they don't control you

It's also important to understand how your personal relationship wounds are impacting how you communicate with your boyfriend, Jambazian told me.

As adults, we may subconsciously act certain ways, like making desperate or aggressive demands of our partners (I've been there) or being people pleasers, in an attempt to get our needs met. These behaviors were often learned in childhood, when we acted those ways towards our caretakers, for whom we relied on for our survival, Jambazian said.

But if we don't notice how those behaviors are showing up in our adult relationships, where we take care of ourselves, we can't see how they're holding us back from being our truest selves.

Getting familiar with your childhood feelings and experiences can help you stand up for what you need now, like reassurance or consistency.

Perhaps more importantly, recognizing your deepest fears can help you come to terms with ending relationships that aren't good for you, knowing that what you deserve will come in due time.

As Insider's resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin is here to answer all of your questions about dating, love, and doing it — no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.

Have a question? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously.

Related coverage from Doing It Right:

A therapist offers advice to a woman who's dating loop involves ignoring flaws and then fixating on them until a breakup

My girlfriend never wants to have sex anymore and I'm starting to feel unwanted. How can I bring this up without making the situation worse?

A therapist offers advice to a woman who has feelings for her best girlfriend

Read the original article on Insider